This started as a comment in response to Lesley’s open letter to Carnie Wilson (in response to Wilson’s appearance on Tyra, in which the woman who broadcast her gastric bypass surgery on the internet complains that people now pay too much attention to her weight), but it got so long, I decided to make it a post. Here you go.
I love this letter, but I actually can muster some sympathy for Carnie by remembering back to the first time I got fat again after a very “successful” diet. I had so totally believed that I was in the tiny percentage of folks who would keep it off forever, I just kinda kept going “Buh?” every time I went up a size, until I was officially fat(ter than before), at which point I was utterly devastated. I felt ashamed enough just knowing that my friends had witnessed the transformation and knew how “weak” I was; if it had been public, I don’t know how I would have gotten up in the morning.
That in itself might not be enough to engender any real sympathy for Carnie — hey, I didn’t ask the whole world to congratulate me on my weight loss! — but here’s what does: I totally would have asked the whole world to congratulate me if I’d had an outlet to do so. The only reason I didn’t was because nobody knew or gave a rat’s ass who I was. As it was, I was one of the worst small-time, local diet evangelists ever, because I really believed the following things:
- I’d discovered the magic weight loss secret. (Brace yourself — eat less and exercise more!)
- I was never going to gain it back.
- I was being helpful by telling everyone I ever fucking met how I’d lost the weight and you can too!
I was a huge troll, basically. (And it’s not lost on me that my fat acceptance evangelism is in some ways just the other side of the coin.) If someone had put a mic in my hand, I totally would have babbled smugly for hours and given them permission to broadcast it anywhere they liked. So in retrospect, I’m extremely grateful that I am not famous and I didn’t even know about blogs back then.
Having said that, I can’t believe Carnie Wilson hadn’t dieted and gained it back a kabillion times before the surgery, so she loses a little sympathy from me on the “You should have freakin’ known better” front. Except… she was no doubt assured by doctors, advertising, Oprah, whomever, that gastric bypass weight loss would be permanent. That’s how they sell it — why else would anyone put herself through it? It’s easy for fat acceptance activists to say, “Well, duh,” but we’re extraordinarily well-informed about the dangers and the failures of the surgery. And sadly, a whole lot of people who get the surgery are not so informed — even if they’ve done what looks like due diligence
If you Google “gastric bypass risks,” you get a whole lot of pages from doctors giving the standard spiel: “X, Y, and Z could happen, but they probably won’t, and if you stay fat, you’ll die soon anyway.” The internet is flooded with people talking about how awesome WLS is, how even the nastiest side effects are totally worth it, how having surgery that leaves you permanently malnourished will feel like the best thing you ever did when you fit into a size whatever dress. So don’t listen to those killjoys who say it’s too dangerous and you might gain it back anyway! They’re just jealous!
There’s so much of that noise out there that even if you do come across some horror stories, you can brush them off as anomalies. And keep in mind, people considering WLS have almost certainly, at some point, bought into the idea that they can diet the weight away permanently, even if the vast majority of people can’t. When you’ve already engaged in that degree of magical thinking (which I sure have, so I’m not judging) a new set of risks and failure rates doesn’t hold any real meaning. Other people have to go in for multiple subsequent surgeries to correct problems. Other people can’t ever eat solid food again without vomiting. Other people gain the weight back anyway. Other people die. Not you. You? Are just going to get thin.
If The Obesity Myth hadn’t come out when it did, there’s a chance I could still be desperately searching for the magic bullet instead of preaching that there isn’t one. So no matter how much I want to say, “You should have freakin’ known better, Carnie,” I relate to her a little too much to leave it at that. I even had a twinge, upon looking at the old Thin Carnie People cover Lesley linked to, of remembering how awesome it felt to be the tiny person (metaphorically) standing in the huge pants. The whole world really wants to congratulate you when you lose a lot of weight, as if triumphing over your own hunger and genetic predisposition is an accomplishment on a par with… well, something that’s actually an accomplishment. It’s fucking intoxicating. You’ve spent your whole life hearing how ugly, lazy, and disgusting you are (if only from your own brain), and now here you are being praised for your hotness and discipline at every turn. It’s only natural to think, “See, this is the real me, not that fat slob I was before!” and want to shout that from the rooftops. (The reality, of course, is that you were probably both hot and disciplined before you lost weight, but you didn’t have the confidence to work the hotness and you didn’t even count all the hard work and tenacity you displayed in your daily life, because there wasn’t evidence of it right there on your ass for all the world to see.) Accordingly, when you start to gain the weight back, it’s only natural to think the real you is receding, not returning. Which leads to the next diet, and the next and the next, and then maybe the surgery, if something doesn’t jar you out of that cycle.
So I can’t help but feel sympathy for Carnie Wilson being stuck in this position of having made her weight loss unbelievably public, only to find the same obsessive attention turned on her weight gain. I can’t help it because I still am Carnie Wilson somewhere down deep, even if my public persona (to the extent that I have one) is now “that Kate Harding chunky chick.” I don’t hate my body or fervently hope, let alone try, to erase parts of it anymore — but I will never forget how it felt when I did, or how it felt when I managed, briefly, to erase dozens of pounds and was constantly lauded for it. I don’t condone weight loss for its own sake, I don’t believe it’s a wise gamble, and I think people who do lose a lot of weight should really shut the fuck up about it, if only because one’s shame over the almost inevitable rebound is directly proportionate to the amount of crowing one’s done over the loss. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get it. I will always get it.
So if Carnie Wilson ever decides to make peace with her body and finds her way to the fatosphere, she’ll be welcome in this little part of it, anyway. I’ll even send her a free “I am Kate Harding” T-shirt.